When it comes to death metal, Matt Harvey knows what he’s doing. He definitely should, being that he’s been playing in the same death metal band, Exhumed, since he was in high school. Whereas most of us would probably struggle to remember what we were up to back then, Harvey has taken his youthful passion and molded it into a successful and wildly diverse career. Not only has Harvey been grossing out and thrilling fans with Exhumed for 30 plus years, he also plays in the Death-inspired Gruesome and the more traditional heavy metal inspired Pounder, among others. So, to say that Harvey is a busy man is a bit of an understatement.
Formed in 1990, Exhumed has weathered more than its fair share of storms in the world of death metal. Through industry highs and fallow periods, the group is still here and still putting out high quality records with regularity. In fact, the band is coming off a hot streak following 2017’s concept album Death Revenge and the back-to-basics of 2019’s Horror. Between all his various projects, Harvey shows no signs of slowing down and fans are sure to have plenty to look forward to from his different groups in the proceeding months and years. Coming off a tour with Gruesome opening for Obituary, Harvey took some time to chat with me via Zoom about his career, what makes death metal such a special genre, and the future of his bands.
First off, you just got off a Gruesome tour playing with Obituary and 200 Stab Wounds. How did that run go?
Matt: It went really great. It was awesome. We’ve toured with Obituary before, both with Guresome and with Exhumed, so it’s a really easy fit. It’s kind of weird because Mike (Hamilton), our drummer in Exhumed, is the stage manager for Obituary and drum tech. Dan (Gonzalez), our guitar player in Gruesome, had some work stuff and some personal stuff that he couldn’t get out of so he couldn’t do most of the tour. He just came out the last three days and we had Sebastian (Phillips) from Exhumed filling in for him so it was three quarters of Exhumed there and three quarters of Gruesome there so for me, it was really, really comfortable. Not only do I know the Obituary guys but I’m also pretty comfortable around my own bandmates so it was just a really nice, fun, smooth tour without any bullshit or drama or anything. With Gruesome, we haven’t really done much in a while so it was nice to get back out and feel like we were a going concern again. The shows were cool, we played a lot of sort of random places that we’ve never been before so it was cool.
Is that your first tour since the pandemic?
Matt: It was Gruesome’s, for sure. We did Chicago and two shows in Florida last year. Exhumed was out for a little over a month last year. We were really fortunate to start before Halloween and we got done in late November so it was really at the time where the pandemic was kind of backing off before the Omicron surge came about. We sort of, by luck really, you can’t plan that kind of thing, hit a really good time slot for our tour. We were anticipating losing shows and people getting sick and that kind of stuff but that never ended up happening. That tour was really fortunate and a great experience.
What was it like getting back on that road for that first tour after being off for so long due to the pandemic?
Matt: Last year was a little bit weird. Now things have sort of subsided where it’s sort of an endemic thing. People are getting sick but they’re not fucking dying or going to the hospital. Also, everybody that’s willing to get the vaccine, I guess at this point, has gotten it. Last year was a little bit more dicey and we were pretty cautious. In fact, I actually got COVID right before the tour. I got out of quarantine the day of the first show in southern California but I’m vaccinated and in decent health. I’m not a senior citizen or whatever so it was fine for me. Last year we were a bit more cautious. We were trying to make sure that, number one, everyone on the tour was vaccinated and number two, when we were going to truck stops or restaurants we tried to be observant and wear masks and stuff. Everybody we were out with, it was Creeping Death, Bewitcher, and Enforced, and everybody was really on board with being cautious and continuing the tour. We were just trying to keep everybody as healthy as possible and just keeping shows so we don’t have to cancel shows. That tour was a little bit weird. We didn’t go to the southeast because we figured that’s where there’d be the most cases and the highest concentration of unvaccinated people, et cetera, so we tried to do whatever we could to minimize the risk of losing shows. This last tour with Obituary was just much more like a tour. It was nice to get out for people and that was the bottom line. It was great to be out and do what we do and, thankfully, this year it seems like it’s mostly back to normal, I guess.
Getting into your background, what got you into death metal and grindcore in the first place?
Matt: As a little kid, I guess in sixth-grade, there was a new kid at school and he asked if I was into heavy metal and I was like, “What’s heavy metal?” and he goes “You’re a fucking pussy” and I go “No, I’m not, I’m on the football team! What’s up dude?” That kinda piqued my curiosity about it and then the next year I changed schools, my parents were getting divorced, and I was about to turn 12 so it was kind of a perfect adolescent storm of angst and confusion and alienation and disillusionment and all that kind of stuff. That was when I discovered Master of Puppets and as soon as I heard the one-two beat at the end of “Battery” I was like “That…that’s what I’ve been looking for.” That quickly led to getting Reign in Blood, this was ’87 I guess, and by ’88 getting all the new records that were coming out, (…And) Justice(for All), South of Heaven, So Far, So Good…So What!, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and as a little kid, especially in the pre-internet age, you’re always a little bit behind so I was kind of stuck in the idea of who’s the fastest band, which I think the scene had sort of moved on from by then but, as a 12-year old, I was like “Is Kreator faster than Slayer? Is Cryptic Slaughter faster than Kreator?” and so on and so forth. Amongst me and my little group of weirdo friends in junior high it was kind of a competition of who could find the craziest thing.
By the time 1989 rolled around, somebody had heard of this band called Napalm Death that was supposedly the fastest band in the world. We lived in the suburbs. We didn’t live in the cool part of the Bay Area like San Francisco or Oakland where you could go to record stores with import sections. We were just little 13, 14-year-old kids on bikes in the suburbs and somebody in our group of friends got ahold of the (The) Peel Session by Napalm Death, and I remember listening to it. We went over to my friend’s house and listened to this Napalm Death CD and we looked at each other like “What the fuck was that?” My initial reaction was that this was the worst band I had ever heard. This is fucking trash, what kind of asshole would go into a recording studio and then expect people to pay money to listen to this, it’s horrible. That was kind of why I liked it, it was just obnoxious. I was like “This sucks but play it again” and I kept listening to it and listening to it and, after a couple of weeks, something started clicking and I went “Wait a minute, this is actually the heaviest band in the world. This makes Slayer sound like fucking Bon Jovi.”
Right around that time, records like Beneath the Remains, Slowly We Rot,(and) Leprosy had been out for a little bit. I already had Scream Bloody Gore. Through getting into Napalm Death, that was the bridge outward and you learn “Oh, their guitar player is in this band called Carcass. Oh, their old guitar player is in this band called Godflesh. What’s Defecation? What’s Righteous Pigs? What’s Terrorizer? What’s Benediction?” From there, it was just a race to get all these records…Realm of Chaos, Altars of Madness, Left Hand Path, the Carnage/Cadaver split, everything that was coming out in ’89/’90, and it was a great time to be a weirdo 15-year old kid tracking down all these records.
Right before I turned 15, Death did the second leg of their Spiritual Healing tour and it was Death, Pestilence, and Carcass and I remember talking to my parents saying “Look, I know it’s on a weekday but I’m getting good grades and I promise I’ll go to school the next day.” I was 14, I wasn’t partying beyond having a sip of my dad’s beer, I wasn’t drinking or smoking weed or anything so I was like, come on, let me go to this show on a Thursday night. Some of our friends weren’t sure about the Carcass, Napalm Death thing that me and our original drummer in Exhumed, Col (Jones) were into. We’d tell them to check out Sore Throat and Extreme Noise Terror and they’d be like, “I don’t know man, I’m still into Kreator.” We went to that show and saw Pestilence, Carcass, and Death, and that was a night where for the whole group of friends, everything clicked. We got back and were kind of dicking around with our instruments thinking about starting a band and everybody came around to our way of thinking, that Col and I were already at, where we need to be playing blast beats, we need to be tuning down, we need to be going forward into crazier shit. That was kind of the beginning of Exhumed trying to become a band.
What got you into playing guitar?
Matt: Growing up, I was a comic book guy, a D&D guy, and that’s kind of what I thought I wanted to do. I wanted to draw comics. When I heard Master of Puppets, it hit me emotionally. My uncle was a jazz fusion guitar player, and he also played the flute, and my grandmother was a piano player. She used to give lessons to little kids, and she played in the Catholic Church, and at funeral services, and things like that so I guess I knew that playing an instrument was a thing that you could do, it wasn’t just for people in magazines. My dad had an old acoustic guitar from the late ’60s. He probably got it from my uncle who traded him some weed for it, I don’t know (laughs). But we had this guitar sitting around my house and nothing was really happening with it. Once I heard Master of Puppets there was no going back, I was like “Ok, I still love Spider-Man and The Avengers and shit but this is it now. This is where my focus is.” I just became obsessed with that idea (but) it wasn’t really about guitar, it was about being in an intense metal band and, in order to do that, you needed a guitar so luckily there was one in my house and here we are now.
Then when you formed Exhumed you were only 15, right?
Matt: Yeah, we had been talking about it for a while but I think we played our first show right after I turned 16, so it was the winter after that Death, Pestilence, and Carcass gig and the next summer, which would be the summer between sophomore and junior year of high school I guess, that we really started trying to be a band. I remember being really disappointed because our first show was a week after I turned 16 and I really wanted to play a show before I turned 16, for whatever reason that was my goal. So it was October ’91 that we played our first show and I think January ’92 we did our first non-rehearsal tape demo.
What was it like finding your way in a band so young?
Matt: It was pretty normal high school band stuff. We didn’t really have any conception of what being in a band really meant. We were just really into this kind of music, especially growing up in the Bay Area (with) Metallica, Exodus, Testament, Lȧȧz Rockit, Death Angel, Forbidden, Vio-Lence, Heathen, and on and on and on…all these bands were already really established and larger than life. To me, Exodus were gods and I think that felt like something that was too high of a mountain to scale. So, finding death metal and grind, that felt like that was something that could be ours in our little group of friends because it was really sort of weird and people were like “What the fuck? What the fuck is Crepitating Bowel Erosion? What kind of drumming is that? What kind of tuning is that? What kind of vocals is that? Why the fuck would you do this?” That felt like a realm where we could maybe do something. It was just typical high school shit, you know?
People would get kicked out because they got a girlfriend and stopped showing up to practice and shit like that. We did a lot of pay-to-play gigs. There were three main clubs where everybody would play…Cannibal, Death, Vio-Lence would play there too…so we kind of got ingratiated into this pay-to-play thing where, you know, I was a kid and I worked at a car wash and I worked in a comic book store so I had money and it was like “Of course I wanna pay $350 to be the local support band for Entombed, that’s a great use of my money!” (laughs). It took a really long time to establish even the slightest inkling of what being in a band meant outside of just writing sick riffs. That was my thing, I was just into writing sick riffs, (at the time). I don’t know how to book a show, I don’t know anything about equipment, I don’t know anything about merchandising, I don’t know anything about all these things that sort of make a band work. It took a really long time for us to figure that out because we were just sort of weird, stubborn, isolated kids (laughs). There were some really good times and some really fun discoveries and stuff and also just a lot of frustration and running around in circles.
Is it wild to ever stop and think that you’ve got the same band going that you started way back in high school?
Matt: Sometimes I’m like, it’s either sort of admirable to stick with something or it’s just sort of embarrassing that I’m still in the same band I was in in high school and just into writing sick riffs or whatever (laughs). Really, I feel really lucky that (from) a really young age I’ve had similar interests. I’ve expanded but I’ve never felt unfulfilled by the stuff that I liked as a kid. I still read comics, I still read science fiction, I still fucking love metal and love music. It’s not like when I was 15 (and) it was like “Oh if it doesn’t have blast beats it sucks!” I listen to all kinds of music across the entire spectrum now. I’ve been really fortunate in that I always kind of knew what I was into and it was always sort of unpopular and took away the pressure of people thinking I was going to succeed or whatever. I liked that sort of safety. I’ll just be over here in this bubble where you guys don’t care about what I’m doing so I can do whatever the fuck I want and I’m still kind of there.
Then your debut full-length, Gore Metal, came out in 1998. How did that one come about?
Matt: It came about sort of like a lot of things that happen for me, sort of a random, sideways sort of way. We did a split in 1995 with a band called Hemdale and the drummer for Hemdale did a label called Visceral Productions and, at the time in the underground, it was all about your mail-order and your distro in the ’90s. Relapse had this huge distro and they sold all this shit, and Visceral was kind of growing, and not becoming a threat but they were certainly able to compete with Relapse. Incantation had left Relapse, they had signed with Visceral. Visceral signed this hot new upcoming band called Nile and they were doing Scattered Remnants and, obviously, Hemdale and stuff.
Eventually it started growing too big for Craig (Rowe) to continue doing. We had done the split with Hemdale and were talking to him about doing Gore Metal. The distro and everything just became too big for Craig and Relapse swooped in and was sort of like “Yo, we like what you’re doing. We want to buy the company.” We actually hadn’t signed anything with Craig. We had maybe signed a letter of intent but I don’t know if it was that professional. Basically they had the option to absorb the roster that Craig had on his label, which I still think to this day was really funny because Incantation had a very contentious relationship with Relapse in the ’90s, got off Relapse, went to Visceral, and then Relapse bought Visceral and they were back on Relapse.
They had the option whether or not they wanted to do the record with us and, thankfully, there was a guy named Tom Haley in Raleigh who did a radio show called Chainsaw Rock that moved to Pennsylvania to work at Relapse and he was a big Exhumed fan. I’d met him at the Milwaukee Metal Fest in ’97. I had a Dark Angel pin on my jacket and so we started talking and he was like “You’re from San Jose, do you know Exhumed?” and I’m like “I’m in Exhumed!” and he says that he loved Exhumed. Thankfully, Tom Haley was roommates with Matt Jacobson, who owned the label, and when they picked up Visceral he was like “You’ve got to do the Exhumed record!” and he was like “OK, I guess we’ll do this Exhumed band.” I think they gave us $1,800 to record the whole album, which even in 1998 dollars is fuck all, it’s like nothing (laughs). So, on the one hand it was cool to finally get signed to a real label because I had sort of had a talk with myself where I said “OK dude, you’re 22 and you’ve been doing this for several years now. If you’re not gonna get signed to a label, a real label, by the time you’re 25 then you’ve gotta go back to college and figure something out.”
We ended up signing the deal when I was 22 so it worked out. On the other hand, the morale in the band wasn’t that great. I think we had just brought in a new guitar player, Mike (Beams) and Ross (Sewage) didn’t want to expand beyond being a three-piece and Col and I did so it was kind of contentious, and I think we all had different ideas of what the album was gonna be like. With $1,800 and, despite being a band for awhile, we didn’t really have much experience about what we were doing in the studio or equipment or how to make an album. I think everybody sort of had their own idea and we went in thinking we were going to do this and that, and then it’s like “Well, you’re out of money so you’re done.” We were like “We’re done? Aw, fuck.” We were happy that the record got made and we were happy that it came out, but I don’t think that anybody was tremendously pleased with the album. It did not live up to what I wanted, to be honest. It turned out to be fine in the long run but it was a bitter pill to swallow but it was a good learning experience.
Were you more happy with the follow-up, Slaughtercult?
Matt: Much more happy, yeah. With Slaughtercult, a lot of the tension was kind of between myself and Col and Ross. We had been longtime friends and a lot of times in life when you have so much in common with somebody, it’s the little things that just make you hate each other, you know what I mean? It’s like Protestants and Catholics or Shia and Sunni Muslims…it’s like dude, you’re almost exactly the same, why are you killing each other? It was like that for Col and Ross and I. We were all sort of introverted, nerdy, comic book, sci-fi, tabletop roleplaying kind of kids and we all were kind of smart kids, but none of us were as smart as we thought we were. We all thought that we knew best and so you just had three chiefs and Mike Beams was great, he was just there to play riffs and, thank God for Mike! All we did was butt heads for the first album and then when Ross left (after Gore Metal) it was easier to get a consensus and do something that was a lot more focused. We definitely lost a lot when Ross left as well, in hindsight I can see that, but at the time it was really refreshing and we worked with Mieszko (Talarczyk) from Nasum, who was just a great producer, great guy and totally understood what we were doing. We were friends with him and we were able…I don’t know if it was a good sounding recording but it was what we wanted whereas Gore Metal is just not a good sounding recording and it sort of was what it was. At least Slaughtercult was what we wanted. It’s really abrasive, it’s really obnoxious, it’s really over the top. We set out to do something and we more or less did it, which was not the case with the first album.
You talked about lineup changes, what do you look for in a new member of Exhumed?
Matt: That’s something that was a really big learning curve. When we were younger, we had this attitude that was almost anti-musician. The guys who were good guitar players in our neighborhood in the ’90s were all focused on more commercially viable forms of metal. First it was they wanted to be in Testament, and then they wanted to be like Korn or Slipknot or Machine Head or Pantera or whatever. We were like “Fuck no!” It was more important to find somebody that we got along with and that we sort of saw eye to eye with in terms of a “If you don’t think this record is good, I don’t want you in my band” kind of thing. I think that was kind of detrimental because we really could have gained a lot from playing with better players. We were all very adamantly self-taught and throughout the ’90s it was a real struggle to find people in the San Francisco Bay Area that were really into what we were doing and could play, rather than finding someone and going “Hey we got this band going” and getting somebody who was a good player and getting them into our style of music, we could have benefitted from that.
Thankfully now it’s a lot different in that we’re a signed band that has booking agents and we have a career, more or less, so getting somebody that’s talented and understands where we’re coming from is not that hard. This style of music has become so, kinda established, that now getting someone that can play the songs correctly is sort of the bare minimum whereas when we were starting out that was like “Oh my God, this guy understands what we’re doing, and he’s cool, and he’s got long hair, and he can almost play the songs” where we could barely play the fucking songs ourselves. If your band is doing good and what you want it to be, you’re going to spend a lot of time with these people and I can’t hang out with someone that I don’t like or, more importantly, that I don’t respect. It’s one thing that they’re in some other band and I’m like “Oh, that guy is kind of a dick” or he’s got some bullshit ideas about whatever. That’s fine for a month, that’s cool. I can coexist with most people but for somebody that I’m going to commit to spending a lot of time with, I don’t want to play with somebody that I don’t like or that I’m going to have to worry about fucking doing weird shit or being a dick to people or whatever. With Exhumed, especially, we have a really good dynamic where everybody is pretty much on the same page all the time, which is really fucking rare.
What’s the music writing process like for Exhumed? I’d imagine it’s changed quite tremendously over the years.
Matt: Our original drummer, Col, he’s a very analog guy and he never really practiced by himself or anything like that. It was just about me and him getting in the room. We’d known each other since we were 11, he’s still my best friend to this day. Not only have we known each other that long, but we were also getting into all of our influences, Repulsion, Carnage, Gorephobia, and Mortician and all this stuff, right alongside each other. I would play a thing and he would go “Oh, it goes like this and on the next part you’re gonna do this” and I’d go “Yeah, that’s exactly what I was gonna do!” That worked really well in the jam room but now, as time has gone on, we’re all basically middle aged men at this point so everybody’s got lives and jobs and families and careers and various things pulling them in different directions, and now we do all that sort of songwriting remotely because I’m the only one who lives in this town at this point. Then we get together when it’s either time to record or play a show or do a tour or something. Then we kind of get in the jam room and make sure it really works and make those small changes.
I guess the thing that hasn’t changed is that I’ve always been the main songwriter and that’s held true for all of my bands, which is, I guess, unusual for somebody who plays in a bunch of different projects but it’s working, or it seems to be working so far, and everybody seems to be happy with it. It’s not like a dictatorship, I’m very open to more contributions or people saying “Hey, this is all great but this part isn’t working, fucking do something different” or “I have an idea.” I’m driving the car but if somebody says that we should take this turn, I’m very open to taking it.
What’s your lyric writing process like then?
Matt: That’s something that’s definitely changed over time. I used to write music and also write lyrics and then try to sort of fit them together. Especially with the third Exhumed record, Anatomy Is Destiny, I was writing all these lyrics and I was really impressed with myself. I was like “Damn, I’m fucking clever man. This shit’s amazing!” So you end up with an album that’s got so many fucking lyrics and not good choruses. That was a strength of the first two records, the song’s called “Limb From Limb,” it says limb from limb, like, 20 fucking times. Amazingly, that’s the one that people remember! Whereas on the third record, I was like “Look at all these fucking words, they’re great!” It was hard to remember, it was hard for the audience to remember and so, after that, I completely changed my idea and (decided) I was gonna write all the music first and when the song is done, I’m gonna sit and write lyrics. I remember reading or hearing something about how Metallica would write the whole song and then James (Hetfield) would take the cassette tape and he would go “Na na na na, na na na na na na” and then he would fit the words to the rhythm because the rhythm was the right thing for the song. I (thought) that seemed so fucking obvious, why did I just figure this out? So it really becomes about sort of letting the music dictate where the words go and then from there trying to make it as interesting as possible. I read a lot ,and I like lyrics a lot, and I like to insert things in our lyrics that are in-jokes within the band or maybe other people will read it and get it or maybe it’ll be just me. There’s a lot of just amusing myself in there and if other people pick up on it, that’s great.
Obviously there are a lot of gore and horror themed lyrics in your bands. Have you always been a fan of the genre?
Matt: Yeah, before I was into metal I was into horror movies. Again, as a kid in the ’80s it was a good time to get into horror. I remember starting with A Nightmare on Elm Street and then into Hellraiser, (that) was a big one, then the Evil Dead series, Texas Chainsaw, and stuff like Lair of the White Worm, (that) was one that I really liked as a kid, Re-Animator (was) absolutely was a game changer. I think the movies that sort of stuck with me the most were Evil Dead 2, Re-Animator, Dead Alive…where yes, it’s super gory and it’s dark and shocking but there’s also a sense of fun about it. We all know nobody is really getting killed, this is not real. You’re not supposed to watch a horror movie and then fucking go out and stalk a coed and kill her. Don’t do that! I think that, especially Dead Alive or Braindead or whatever you want to call it…the first time I saw it I (thought) this was like Wile E. Coyote but with gore. It’s so incredibly over the top that you can’t take it seriously and it’s not meant to be taken seriously. It’s shocking and totally rude and un-PC and crass, but the people making the movie know and the audience knows this is not to be taken seriously. There’s great movies that are scary, like The Exorcist or the first Texas Chainsaw, for sure, that’s a fucking frightening movie, but I think for what we do, musically, I think I sort of related more to the stuff that has a lighthearted edge to the fucking bodies and entrails flying and stuff.
It seemed like once I got into metal, it was like, oh, this is the audio equivalent of a horror movie, you know? Once that clicked, because there was still that Satanic Panic going on and my parents were like, “Oh my God, you’re listening to Venom?” and I was like “Look, there’s fantasy and there’s reality. I’m not going to fucking sacrifice anybody or mutilate myself or whatever. This is just what I’m into. I’m a 12, 13-year-old suburban kid. I’m full of fucking angst, I don’t fit in at school. This is my outlet to let that out.” (So) they were like, “Well, he’s getting A’s and B’s so I guess it’s fine. You can listen to Satanic bullshit and watch people get eviscerated, I guess.” To me, there’s always been a synergy there. It goes all the way to Black Sabbath. It’s named after a fucking horror movie, right?
But you also use gore lyrics to stand in for societal issues. How did you come up with that thought process?
Matt: I was really into thrash in ’88 and that’s when everything was getting political. Bands went from rape and murder your wife to like “Yo, toxic waste might be bad or whatever” (laughs). I knew a lot of kids that were into punk so that was always there with the horror stuff and everything else. I think with Exhumed, that was sort of more of the case, after the 87th song about dismemberment it was like, well, what is this really about? What does this really mean? What can I use this to express? Certainly some of our songs are fairly serious, you know? “Coins Upon the Eyes” is about the subprime mortgage crisis and how between the financial industry and the medical industry in the United States, people are going from riches to rags all the time. I was watching my grandparents kind of die or get close to death in that time and it was like “Man, growing up you guys had a fucking three-bedroom house with a pool and a Cadillac and now you’re renting, you know, a nice sort of two-bedroom condo but what the fuck happened to your life?” And it’s like “Oh, well you’re getting drained.” Anyway, there is serious stuff going on but some of our songs are just about ripping out eyeballs because that’s pretty awesome. I think it’s just a case of, again, when the music is a little more thought out and serious, it might lend itself to a more metaphorical, lyrical approach. The last record we did, Horror, the songs were like a minute-and-a-half. I don’t know how deep you can get into the ills of society in a way that isn’t a hardcore band (in that time length). Like, I love Dropdead but it’d be weird if Exhumed was all of a sudden like “Hey, here’s an anti-QAnon song.” That’s kind of far afield from what we do.
Have you always been someone that pays attention to what’s going on in the world?
Matt: Sort of. As times have changed, I think everyone has become more political, in the last ten years or so, but I think for me, a big thing was that we would watch the news and shit when I was a kid but I was a big lyrics guy. I’d been listening to Cryptic Slaughter, Dead Kennedys, or even Agnostic Front and I’d be like “What is this song about? What does this mean? What do I think about it?” At some point, I guess this was right after Exhumed split up in ’04 or ’05 maybe, I ended up working at Alternative Tentacles, which is Jello (Biafra) from Dead Kennedys’ label. That kind of sparked my interest to maybe read a little more by Noam Chomsky or Angela Davis or Howard Zinn, those types of authors, and maybe think a little more (about) a broader perspective on U.S. history or United States politics. It’s something that’s interesting but also depressing, which I think fits with the kind of downbeat sort of musical qualities of what we do.
Getting back to the discography, how did you guys decide on the covers for the Garbage Daze Re-Regurgitated album? There’s a really solid mix there.
Matt: One of the things with Exhumed that has always sort of annoyed me, and sort of more so in recent years, is when people say “Oh, you guys are like a Carcass clone band like General Surgery” and I’m like “No, no we’re fucking not.” Obviously, Carcass is one of our influences, certainly, I love Carcass. They’re definitely an influence and a fairly significant one but I always found that really frustrating and, at the time, the band fizzled out around then, but I was thinking this was a transitional phase where we were gonna hopefully get a new lineup together and then be able to push forward. That didn’t end up happening but, again, Metallica was probably my single biggest influence and I thought when they brought Jason (Newsted) in, they did this transitional thing with these covers that would be kind of low-pressure and kind of fun. I wanted to go as far afield of covering “Exhumed to Consume” or something like that or “Left Hand Path,” something obvious like that. It was reflective of a lot of stuff that I was certainly into and we were listening to as a band. The Cure is in there, (Led) Zeppelin is in there, Pentagram…we tried to do an AC/DC cover but that didn’t really work. We had another cover that didn’t make it that was (from) a Bay Area thrash band called Hex. It was across the board…hardcore, punk, rock, post-punk, just a little bit of everything. I love mo-town but I don’t think we could do a Diana Ross cover. That one I don’t see working.
I mean, I guess you never know until you try.
Matt: (laughs) right? Never say never!
So then you guys go on a break from ’05 until 2010. What happened there?
Matt: We brought in a guy named Matt Connell, a Canadian guy, on drums. It was really weird because he’s a good drummer, but in the context of Exhumed, it never clicked. One of the things I’ve noticed about what we do, really since the mid to late ’90s, I’ve always been a rock-oriented songwriter, like this is the verse, this is the bridge, this is that. A lot of guys that are more technical drummers that are into playing three kinds of blast beats at X number of beats per minute or whatever are like “Wait what?” (and I say) “It’s just verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus and that’s the whole song.” They’re like “Wait, no ” and they find that confusing. Even Mike Hamilton, our drummer who’s been with us now for ten years, when he joined that was the biggest learning curve because he came from Deeds of Flesh. He’s like, “That’s it?” and I’m like “That’s it” and he (says) “Well that’s confusing” and I (say) “What do you mean that’s confusing? It’s the same thing three times with a slight variation each time.” With Matt Connell it never clicked. It just didn’t click with him in the band. It’s not like he’s a bad drummer and he’s a great guy, it just wasn’t there.
It was also the kind of thing where after Anatomy is Destiny, the third record, I kind of thought that Col was gonna be leaving the band because he was graduating college and now he’s very successful, he’s in the medical science field, makes tons of money and does great, but he left really quickly and I was like “Whoa, I at least thought we were going to get a summer to tour.” He left and that caused Bud (Burke), our bass player at the time and later our guitar player, to leave and then Mike and I went through a couple different potential lineups and nothing really came together. Then when we were recording the covers albums, Mike left and I was like “I wish you would have just fucking left two years ago because then we could have (said) this was our last album, played a few shows, and had some closure.” We kind of limped along for a few more months and it just wasn’t coming together. We did a tour and the tour was not great and I was like “Fuck this, this has run it’s course” which I think was absolutely the right decision at the time.
How did you know it was time to bring it back then?
Matt: It was a combination of a lot of things. Really, just having some perspective away from it…when we were doing the first three records I thought that “If we’re not as big as Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel, we’ve failed.” That was how I thought. When you’re in the music industry, people (say) “You’re gonna break through to the next level” and all this sort of bullshit and I think I bought into that, maybe, a little bit and was thinking “Oh something’s gonna happen and all of a sudden it’s gonna be where I want it to be or something I’ll be satisfied with.” I think that attitude is naive. I was very much a guy in his early 20s (laughs) and I think I had to get some life perspective to re-calibrate why I was doing what I was doing, and really see a lot of the positives and also find a way where I could sort of define the idea of success in a way that would be less frustrating for myself.
Also, when we came back, we had a sense of if this started going someplace, then we could put something in place as far as the business side of the band, which was really underdeveloped, even through the first three records. We didn’t have merchandising plans, we didn’t have scheduling plans, we used a bunch of different agents, most of which weren’t particularly good. We didn’t have a consistent team. Every band, whether you’re Iron Maiden or you’re Regurgitated or whatever, you have to have a plan and you have to have some sort of team surrounding you that is formulating that plan and executing that plan, or else you’re just gonna sort of languish. People that we worked with before, five or six years, now have gone from guys who were local promoters and your friend to (being) a really good agent that would be happy to take you guys on and work with you for seven years. If you have the same agent for seven years, you’re able to do better tours and make more money and raise your profile gradually rather than “get to the next level.”
I think there was an idea that we could make something more of it, but we could also just be happy making a good record and doing a couple festivals. It was a bunch of things and I think I was burnt out on death metal in general when we split up. I was burnt out on the scene. I thought with people coming back around to Autopsy and Carcass, At the Gates, and the bands that influenced me ten years ago (at the time), that people might be more receptive to what we were doing and that turned out to be true.
Death Revenge, which came out in 2017, was a concept album. How did you come up with the idea for that record?
Matt: I wasn’t really looking to do a concept album but I was just kind of poking around on Wikipedia looking for various things. After doing this for a long time, it’s hard to do stuff that’s not repetitive. Somehow I stumbled across the anatomy murders in Scotland. I’d never heard of them before and I didn’t know anything about them but I read and thought there was a lot here, there’s a lot to unpack, and there were even more aspects to it that I was hoping we would have been able to incorporate, but the album would have gotten really bloated. I just thought, “Hey, this is something different. This is something we haven’t done before.” Once I really started researching it, it had so many of the things that were already part of our aesthetic. There was the grave robbing aspect, the pathological aspect, and I really liked the fact that (William) Burke and (William) Hare were not master criminals. They were fucking idiots that just got people drunk. They were sort of relatable. It just made sense and it wasn’t really something that hadn’t been covered that much in death metal, at least that I knew of. It was like, “Well, fuck, if this isn’t everything that makes sense for Exhumed then I don’t know what is, and I don’t know how we’re gonna find something that would be better suited for a concept album.” It was a happy coincidence that I happened to stumble upon it and that the more I read about it the more sense it made for us to do it.
Are you a big true crime guy?
Matt: Not necessarily. I’ve read Henry: Portrait of Serial Killer and all that stuff back in the day and I actually just got a book on Santa Cruz in the ’70s because (Edmund) Kemper was there and all these other guys. I haven’t actually got a chance to read it yet. It’s one of those things where I like it and find it interesting, but I’m not necessarily a “true crime guy.” I know people who are true crime people and they are fucking into it. If there is something that’s particularly interesting then sure, but otherwise eh. This one (the anatomy murders) just ticked all the boxes. Even getting back to the societal thing, one of the things that interested me about it was that there were all these marginalized, itinerant workers who were getting murdered by Burke and Hare and (they were) these really vulnerable people. That’s how they were able to get away with it because they were fucking morons. They weren’t Lex Luthor, they were dumb shits, and they were able to get away with it because they were preying on these sort of marginalized people and because forensic science was really negligible compared to today. That was the aspect that didn’t really make it into the album although I was hoping to (get) it in there. If I find something that interests me, I’ll dig into it. Look at “How did people get that high of a body count?” and then just oh everybody was a fucking idiot then.
I know, you look at killers from back in the day and you think how nuts it is that they ended up with the body counts they did, but you read anything about them and it’s mainly just dumb luck and the people chasing them being idiots too.
Matt: Yeah and like, this idea that people like Ted Bundy are a genius…no he’s not. He’s a dumbass (and) lucky. A lot of it has to do with luck. I remember reading Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and (thinking that) this dude, if he stayed in one place, would be caught really quickly but because of technology and lack of coordination between police departments and dumb luck and a bunch of other stuff, he was able to continue murdering people for years. It’s pretty fascinating, the convergence of stuff. I remember growing up in the ’80s so the Night Stalker was a huge thing when I was a kid, Jeffrey Dahmer…that was a mass media event. Between Macabre and so many others I felt like that’s been covered pretty well.
What was the writing and recording process like then for the follow-up, Horror?
Matt: It is, as the band continues, sort of a struggle to be non-repetitive. I think with Death Revenge, it was as expansive as we could get without sounding like another band. It’s got influences from horror movie soundtracks, and there’s all kinds of melodic ideas, and there’s a seven-minute instrumental on there. Death Revenge is like the supreme pizza with everything and with Horror, it’s just the cheese pizza. Can we make a good album with none of that? No melody, no dual guitar work, no guitar heroics, no big expansive anything, so that became the challenge, to be as minimal as possible. At this point, we know where we’re at with Exhumed. That’s why I do other projects…because I’m interested in other kinds of music but I’m not going to turn around and put a square peg into a round hole with Exhumed. That said, I’m going to try and make every record as different as possible so I think that Horror was the reaction to Death Revenge.
I really dig the retro feel on those two covers with Death Revenge having that Paperbacks from Hell look and Horror the old school VHS look. How did you end up with those two?
Matt: (With) Death Revenge we were talking with Orion Landau, who’s been the head of graphic design at Relapse for forever and he’s also a really good painter in his own right. I think I sent him the movie poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark and said “Something like this, but related to what we’re doing, you know?” If you really look at the cover, all of the band members are in the cover art. Having the central character of Dr. Filthy, who comes out on stage with us and does all this shit, it kind of provides a ready-made visual center just like Eddie from Maiden or whatever. We were able to lean into that for the cover art. Death Revenge definitely has that ’70s, ’80s movie poster vibe.
With Horror, I was thinking about it and the whole inspiration for the record, I thought, (was) when I was in high school and shortly thereafter, we’d all work our minimum wage jobs and then we’d go to band practice and after we were done we would get a pizza and go to the video store. We had this really good video store called American Video but it was the same, any video store you walked into, the first thing you did was you looked up for that sign that just said horror. “Ok cool, I know where I’m going” and that was it. It’s so simple but it makes total sense. Horror, that’s what I’m looking for. Once we had that in place, the VHS vibe just made total sense. It’s such a great aesthetic because all the pieces were already there, and between Relapse and our merchandiser, Rachel, who’s also a graphic designer and author in her day job when she’s not selling Exhumed shirts at our table, I was like “Can you mock me up something that looks like this so I can show it to Relapse?” She mocked up the basic cover outline and I was like “Oh, this is just done! This is it.” We found Marc Schoenbach, who also did the art for our new album that will be out in the fall. He did the art for the Pounder records that I did, he did the art on Horror. He has that sort of retro ’80s aesthetic. I used to have this poster, this picture that was the size of my closet door that was Eddie breaking through the wall and I (said) “Just do this, but with our guy” and that was it. Death Revenge was meticulously researched and put together and with Horror it was first thought, best thought. done and it worked out perfectly.
What can you tell me about the new record?
Matt: Probably not much because we are just getting together the promo stuff for it. I can tell you that we recorded it over last spring and summer and, because of the pandemic and everything else and all the delays in the vinyl pressing, that we are finally going to be able to have it come out a year-and-a-half after we started it. We are really excited about it and excited for people to hear it.
How much have your bands been affected by the COVID pandemic?
Matt: It was certainly not as bad as I thought it was gonna be. When we first went into lockdown and you look at the numbers and people are getting sick and everything else, we did exactly what we’re doing right now, we got on Zoom and talked about it and said “What are we going to do?” Obviously, we didn’t know how long it was gonna go and the only reference we had was the Spanish Flu, and we were like “Well that was three years so…Ok, that’s three years. What is our plan? What are we gonna do?” We started putting stuff together for our YouTube channel, started working on a new album partially because we have the material but also partially because, at the time, it was so uncertain we were like, we kinda need the recording buck to be honest. I’m sitting here in our studio right now. We have a screen printing shop out there, then our live room for recording is in the other room, so that’s a fair bit of overhead operating month to month. We (said), just so we’re not panicking and have to sell some guitars or whatever, we should really get this album rolling. Because we own the studio obviously it’s more affordable for us to record, but the budget is based on what the album is worth. We ended up getting what the album was worth, not what it cost us to make it, and that enabled us to take some of the pressure off not knowing when in the fuck you’re gonna be able to tour again because, like I said, that’s the main source of revenue for us. Overall, it wasn’t too bad. I think the big silver lining for me was after touring nonstop for eight or nine years, taking a year-and-a-half just not screaming 150 nights a year…I thought my voice has really recovered and I’m singing a lot better. Before the pandemic, I was like, “Man, this shit’s getting fucked up. It’s getting a little thin sounding, a little ragged.” It wasn’t to the point where I thought it sounded like shit but it was to the point where I didn’t have the endurance that I once had and now I feel that’s really built back up.
How do you take care of your voice so it lasts through a tour? I can’t imagine doing death metal vocals is easy on it.
Matt: Everybody’s different and everybody has different singing techniques. In terms of taking care of it, I don’t really do too much. On tour I try and drink tea as much as I can. I have a vaporizer where you put water in and it’s got this (thing) you put on your face and you basically breathe in steam and it loosens things up. On the last tour, Reese from Creeping Death turned me on to this Chinese cough syrup and that seems to help, just in terms of coating your throat. I used to drink Coca-Cola. I used to drink one Coke a day because the syrup will coat your throat. Obviously soda’s not great for you and I’m a fairly heavy alcohol drinker so I thought I shouldn’t be drinking alcohol and soda so I tried to cut out soda as much as I can, so now I have this cough syrup and that seems to help. Beyond that I don’t really think about it too much. I just don’t sing as hard during sound check because you don’t want to waste it. I’ve just always operated from the assumption that it’s gonna be there and 99.9% of the time it’s there. I just try to mitigate the damage as much as I can.
How did Gruesome get started?
Matt: Gruesome was another sort of sideways thing. The first Death to All shows were six, seven years ago now or whatever. The guys from Sick Drummer put it all together and they really had no idea what they were doing. Their idea was that they were going to have Steffen (Kummerer) from Obscura come in and play guitar and singing all these songs from the later catalogue. I had met Eric Greif, who is sadly no longer with us. He had promoted an Exhumed show in Calgary, I think it was, and he got involved with Relapse obviously reissuing all the Death stuff, and then he was also their lawyer for a period of time. Anyway, I started hearing that they were going to do something with this and I saw Eric somewhere and said “Hey, I heard this might be a thing and I don’t know if you’re looking for a singer but I have kind of a higher range like Chuck (Schuldiner), and certainly the lyrics to the first three albums I could pretty much just tell you off the top of my head so if there’s some way I could help, let me know.”
The Sick Drummer people wanted to do it a different way and it was a whole thing because they had never even promoted a show before in their lives. They didn’t get Steffen’s VISA squared away correctly so it was, like, nine days before the first show and (they) were in California getting ready to rehearse and somebody, Eric maybe, somebody suggested (I’m) in California and a death metal singer. They hit me up about getting involved and I was a little hesitant because I wasn’t as familiar with the later records as I was with the early stuff, but obviously I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to go jam with Gene Hoglan and Steve Di Giorgio so I was like, “Fuck it, cool. I’m in.” I did the first nine shows, and business-wise and financially it was a disaster, but I didn’t have much skin in the game so I didn’t really care. I still have my bounced check from that (laughs). The thing it opened my eyes to was that there was this legacy of Death that was somehow going to continue, which I thought was great.
Then, between Eric and Gene, they sort of shored up the business side of things and decided to continue. They offered me to get involved with the second tour but I had a scheduling conflict with Exhumed and thought Exhumed is sort of my baby, I’m not gonna neglect that and my responsibility to the other guys in the band just so I can go off and do this glory gig. I passed. We ended up playing with Death to All with Exhumed. It was Sean (Reinert) and Paul (Masvidal) and Gene and, I think, Max (Phelps) was already in the picture at that time. They were great but I remember talking with Gus (Ríos), the drummer in Gruesome, and he was teching for Sean Reinert on that tour. He and I were talking and I said “You know, what I would want to see as a fan is Terry (Butler) and James (Murphy)…I’d like to see them and I’d like to see them just do the first three” and Gus was like, and I think he was still playing in Malevolent (Creation) at that time or had just left Malevolent, “Man, I’d love to do that. I’d do that in a heartbeat.” I was like, “You’re on tour with these guys, talk to Eric and see what he thinks about that idea.”
Nothing ever came of it but the last thing I said after that conversation, we were just having a few beers and talking shit, was “If nothing comes of it, you and I’ll just write our own Death songs and make a band that sounds like Death.” We exchanged information and, my wife is British, she was my girlfriend at the time, so I was spending a lot of time in England. She was working in a pub so I was sitting around this flat not doing much. She had this beat up old guitar and I thought “Oh, I wonder if I could write a song like Death, wouldn’t that be funny?” and so I wrote “Gangrene” and I sent Gus the MIDI file and the tablature. He (said) “This is pretty cool man, do you mind if I fuck around and put a demo together?” I said “This’ll be good for a laugh” and he sent it back and I heard it and (thought) “This is actually kind of good…shit!” So I wrote, I think, “Savage Land” was the second song or maybe “Closed Casket,” one of those two, and then he got Dan (Gonzalez), our guitar player, involved who was a friend of mine anyway and then they made this demo and I was like “Fuck, this demo’s actually good…shit!” So I got back to the States and finished the last two songs, we did the demo and then, you know, I don’t want to diminish it because obviously we worked hard on it to make it good, but it was just like a novelty band. I sent the demo to Relapse and said it’s this thing we’re doing for fun and they said “Don’t fucking release any more songs, we’re going to send you a contract.” I went, “Oh, oh shit. Ok!” and here we are years later and I’m pleasantly shocked that the band had legs because I didn’t really see a market for it but that was foolish on my part I guess.
You guys have had a consistent lineup, you must all work pretty well together.
Matt: You know, I think Gus deserves a lot of credit because he actually put the lineup together. I’ve known Robin (Mazen) for years and I knew Dan a bit beforehand. I think because it started as, I don’t want to say side project, we started with the idea of respecting everybody’s schedules and because, ultimately, we’re a tribute band, I think the idea of going out and playing 150 shows a year seems gratuitous, it seems unrealistic, especially when there’s Death To All out there. We’ve been kind of realistic about what we can and can’t do and we just get along well. Everybody’s strengths kind of compliment each other. Dan and Gus are really good recording engineers, I’m sort of a songwriter, Dan is the virtuoso guitar player, and Robin, what she does for a living is she’s a merchandiser and a band manager, so if Robin can manage Exodus, she can manage Gruesome (laughs)! We’ve been really lucky from the beginning. We’ve had a good team that’s complementary and we’ve managed to keep it consistent.
Do you have a favorite Death album?
Matt: Yeah. Scream Bloody Gore for sure.
Nice! I love all the Death albums but I always feel like Scream Bloody Gore is a little under-appreciated or always a little lower on rankings than I’d put it.
Matt: I feel like the legacy of the band has changed so much. That was one of the things I saw getting involved with Death To All and watching the project continue without me. It’s so great, especially what Sean and Paul did on Human, cannot be stated how fantastic it is and what it meant for the genre and it was groundbreaking and yadda yadda yadda. Then Gene and Bobby (Koelble) and Steve…just really fantastic players that all pushed the boundaries of what death metal could be and that’s super important. That said, the first three records are the ones that I hold nearest and dearest because, at the end of the day, I’m into just regular old death metal.
I don’t listen to Archspire, they’re amazing players but that doesn’t do anything for me. I listen to Repulsion and Necrophagia, Master, Death Strike, the Carnage demos and stuff. To me, I think Scream Bloody Gore is really important. Musically, it’s great, but it’s impact on the scene can’t be overstated because by ’88, ’87 most of the early bands that were considered death metal but now retroactively are sort of considered thrash or proto-death metal…the difference between Pleasure to Kill and Terrible Certainty, (the latter) is certainly more tidy and less aggressive and crazy. The difference between Torment in Fire by Sacrifice and Forward To Termination…same thing. The difference between The Return…… and Blood, Fire, Death…same thing. Even Seven Churches to Beyond the Gates, that’s certainly a more tidy sounding album. I think between all those bands kind of moving in that direction and Possessed splitting up the same year, there were no death metal bands on labels any more aside from Death. Master, Genocide, Repulsion or whatever you want to call them, those bands didn’t have record deals yet. The extreme stuff from the UK was still hardcore. Scum was a hardcore album, Reek of Putrefaction, even, is a hardcore album. I think Scream Bloody Gore sort of stepped in and filled that void that all these people that liked Reign in Blood and liked Torment in Fire and Obsessed by Cruelty, but maybe didn’t like the more polished direction those bands were doing, that became the thing.
I think the fact that the record was successful is really what paved the way for everybody getting signed…Obituary, Morbid Angel, Entombed. Without Scream Bloody Gore being successful and then Leprosy being even more successful…if you think about it, they had two albums out before Altars of Madness, before Slowly We Rot, before Severed Survival and all these great, seminal records…Death was already two albums deep. It was just like Metallica had Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning before there was Show No Mercy or Killing is My Business. Death had this huge head start on this new generation of bands and their success at least made people like Monte Connor at Roadrunner (listen to them) because before, in 1987, if you had come with Death Strike or Genocide or Xecutioner you would have gotten laughed out of the room. Like, no one wants to put this shit out man, come on. So I think Scream Bloody Gore, not only do the songs rule but that was what opened the door to what people now consider old school death metal. And Leprosy kicked the fucking door of the hinges and it was like “Ok, this is a real thing now.” I think it’s a very important record musically in its own right.
How do you differentiate your writing with Exhumed and Gruesome so that you don’t end up cannibalizing yourself?
Matt: I mean I do cannibalize myself, for sure. One thing that I find, and this is something I do to amuse myself, I always try and include on every record at least a couple riffs that I wrote in high school. Certainly the really, really early stuff that became Exhumed songs was heavily influenced by Death and Obituary. The first Gruesome album has stuff from the first Exhumed demo, the first rehearsal demo and stuff, so there is a bit of that. We just had Sebastian from Exhumed filling in in Gruesome, and as he was learning the songs he’s like “Huh, I can really see your style in here” and I (said) “That’s not my style. I learned how to play death metal from Chuck’s riffs.” So it’s less of a leap than you might think to go from Exhumed to Gruesome. At the same time, I feel like with Gruesome it’s almost like method acting because there are songwriting choices that Chuck makes that I would never make or at least certainly not now, so I try and think what would he do and how would he fit this together and I think that’s a really fun puzzle. I know you’re supposed to be like “Oh this is my art and it comes from the heart and the soul” or whatever but I think with Gruesome, a lot of it is like a really fun exercise in how much can I submerge my own sensibility and then do it in this way. It’s good because Gus and Dan are really good editors that way too. Dan will (say) “No, you’ve already done this thing. What you need is this part, this really distinctive bit from this Death song” and I’ll say “Fuck, you’re right. Now the song really pops.” I know it’s the same thing for Gus when he picks his drumbeat.
On Leprosy and Spiritual Healing, Bill has such a distinctive style that it’s really odd. You don’t hear it in Slayer, you don’t hear it in Kreator, you don’t hear it in Obituary, Morbid Angel, Entombed…it’s just what Bill does. So (we’re) sort of latching on to these distinctive things and finding a way to…the whole thing is just an exercise in tickling the nostalgia bone for us and the listeners as well. It’s a fun challenge, in terms of keeping things separate, as far as projects go. I learned as a kid, because I was a comic book kid, that, and nowadays there’s so many superhero movies that people actually understand what the fuck I’m talking about, whereas ten years ago they would’ve been like “huh?,” I loved X-Men and Iron Man and Spider-Man or whatever but I knew that they could not go and fight the Justice League or Lex Luthor or whoever because they’re over here in this DC box, and these guys are over here in this Marvel box and they each sort of have their own set of rules and this is how this works, and I feel like every project that I do, every band that I do, this is this box and this is how this works in this box and that box over there is how that works. If I want to go play in this box I go there and it’s fun for me to think like that. If I try to put everything I like into one band it would just be fucking gobbledy gook.
How important is that for you, having multiple different musical outlets?
Matt: I think it’s super important, man. One of the things that I really value and that I think has been really enriching is getting to jam with different people under different circumstances. My goal with every band is always to be the worst musician in the room because it puts me in the position of having the most to learn and I feel like I learn a lot from everybody that I jam with in different ways. Some people it’s business acumen, some people it’s recording stuff, some people it’s technical stuff, theoretical stuff about equipment. I feel like I’m constantly in college or something. I don’t know, I never went to college but at least that’s what I would want college to be like. Everywhere I go I’m having fun and I’m learning and I’m able to bring the good things from this place or that place and it’s a win-win. I also feel like when I come back to another band, it’s refreshing. It’s like, I love vanilla ice cream. I don’t actually love vanilla ice cream, bad example. I love peanut butter and chocolate ice cream but if you have that all the time, you’re gonna get sick of it. You’re gonna want pralines and cream or whatever. After eating peanut butter and chocolate for a month you go and fucking eat pralines and cream and go “Oh, this is so great, this is so refreshing.” You’re excited about it and it makes you appreciate all the projects for their own thing more because you don’t feel trapped.
Do you have a favorite album that you’ve done?
Matt: I always think my favorite one is the next one (laughs). I try not to get too into that because it’s really easy, especially as I get older and see more and more people doing this, I don’t want to be Al Bundy talking about how many touchdowns I scored for Polk High back when I was great or whatever. I always want to be sort of moving toward the next thing and moving toward the future. There’s definitely records that I think…well, I have my least favorites (laughs)! I think they’re all building blocks and the fact that people like them is really nice.
Do you pay attention to what’s going on in the world of death metal these days?
Matt: To an extent. Mostly, I have a few friends who are in their 20s and early 30s and if they hear something they are like, “Dude, you gotta check this out” I’ll definitely pay attention to it. Obviously touring you get to see a lot of younger bands and stuff and then obviously I know a lot of people in bands so I try and keep a halfass idea of what they’re doing. At the same time, I don’t know if I have my finger on the pulse or anything. I think that, for me, as far as what I’m doing, I’m going to benefit more from concentrating on that rather than paying attention to what everybody else is doing. That said, there are tons of great bands and I’m sure there’s way more than I have an idea about. Whenever I hear a band I like, I try to make it known, whether it’s Molder or Cartilage or any number of younger bands. I love to see younger people playing this music because if you leave it up to a bunch of fucking old dudes like me, it’s gonna get real repetitive and stale real fast. I’m all for it but at the same time if I’m going to listen to death metal, I’ll probably sit around and listen to Nihilist or whatever.
Oh man, yeah I love Molder. They’re so good!
Matt: I liked them a lot and then I saw them live and was like “Damn, this shit’s for real man.”
How much has the band been affected by the streaming industry and other different industry changes over the last few years?
Matt: I try not to think about that stuff too much. Luckily we’ve had a really long standing relationship with Relapse and we have a very fair record deal and a good relationship with them. I know that because their parent company is Sony, Sony is 100% focused on streaming for the future, that’s where, in their mind, the income is and they don’t really give a shit. I’m like “We could really use better physical vinyl distribution in Europe” and Relapse is like, “Yeah, I get that. I understand to you guys, and even to us, that’s decent money but Sony does not care about that. They do not give one fuck, all they care about is streaming and monetizing that as much as possible.” Judging by that every six months I’m getting checks, they’re doing something right there. I try not to think about it too much. We just try to keep doing what we do and focus on the things that we can control. We have our own webstore, we print our own shirts, we own our own van and trailer, and we have a great relationship with our agent, Ron Martinez. We just try to build on the things that we can control and we work with people that we trust so we trust them to look out for us and navigate those things.
For fans, what’s the best way to support the band?
Matt: The bottom line is, ultimately, whether you listen on iTunes or Amazon or Apple Music or Spotify or whatever, we’re going to get our little tiny piece of that pie eventually. The most effective way, of course, is to buy stuff from us at shows or go to our webstore and just buy shit directly from us. With that said, I listen to most of my music on Spotify. I did call my buddy that works in a record store here and (said) you gotta get me that new Voivod on vinyl because that shit’s amazing but mostly I just get records at shows or whatever.
Are there still any big goals that you’re shooting for with your bands?
Matt: The main thing for me is, over the last couple years, one of the things that I did get more focused on during the pandemic is just writing, basically, orchestral or film type music. I really opened a massive can of worms for myself there, but it’s something that I’m really interested in and something that I want to do as much of as I can in the future. I realized, I’m 46, and we were just out with Obituary and I look at those guys and they’re eight to ten years older than me and they’re still playing great and sound awesome. They’re in good health and able to keep doing it, which is awesome, so I don’t think my retirement or whatever is imminent. At the same time, I do recognize that as time goes on, it’s going to be more difficult to keep living this underground, DIY lifestyle so that’s something that I find really exciting and interesting and rewarding. It’s something that hopefully I’ll be able to turn into a second act kind of thing at some point.
Lastly, I’m always curious, what kind of hobbies and interests do you have outside of music?
Matt: I read a lot. I’m also a writer, which sounds weird. I had a short story published last year and I’m working on sort of a short novel right now. If you’re into my music it’s probably not much of a stretch. It’s a horror, sort of cosmic horror, but more tied up in my various interests…cults and detective shit. That’s something that I do for fun. I’m still a comic book guy so I still read comics and Ross, our bass player in Exhumed, is a big action figure guy so we go toy shopping when we’re on tour. I have a lot of fun doing that stuff. I’m married and we just got a new dog this past week so now we have two dogs. That’s an adventure. I like being outside a lot. I live in California so it’s nice to be outside the overwhelming majority of the year. I like getting in front of water or hiking and shit.
I’m the same way. I just put the pre-order down on the new Ash from Evil Dead II figure that’s coming out. It’s hard to keep from blowing your whole pay on that stuff sometimes.
Matt: That’s the thing, there’s so much cool stuff now. It’s sort of an embarrassment of riches as far as movies, TV, media. People are always like “Oh are you into new horror movies?” and I’m like “Dude, I don’t have time!” Between every show about superhero comics that I used to read in the ’80s, I have no time to watch more movies or else I wouldn’t be writing music or writing or doing whatever.
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Photo at top curtesy of Matt Harvey.